By Mark Dovich
The spokesperson for Armenia’s Foreign Ministry responded Friday to an announcement the day before by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu that Armenian and Turkish envoys will be meeting again for normalization talks, confirming that “there is a preliminary understanding between the sides that the next meeting may take place in Vienna.”
Like Çavuşoğlu, the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Vahan Hunanyan, declined to specify a date for the meeting, simply saying that “the public will be informed” once “the date and the place of the meeting are finally confirmed.”
In addition, Hunanyan revealed that Yerevan had recently offered Ankara an agreement by which the Armenia-Turkey border would be open “for holders of diplomatic passports” as the first step in a gradual opening of the two countries’ closed border.
“We think this will be a small, but substantive, and importantly, logical step,” he said. “But the Turkish side is hesitating.”
As of this writing, the Turkish government has not commented on Armenia’s apparent proposal to open the border to those holding diplomatic passports.
Vahanyan also responded to Çavuşoğlu’s apparent disappointment that the meeting would not be taking place in Armenia or Turkey, saying that if there is “the political will to reach a normalization and the readiness to undertake clear, concrete steps,” then “the place of the meeting will become a purely logistical issue.”
“We demonstrate both, and we expect the same from Turkey,” Vahanyan added.
On Thursday, Çavuşoğlu accused Armenia of “not showing courage to meet in Turkey or Armenia,” placing blame on “a segment of the (Armenian) diaspora” that is opposed to rapprochement between Yerevan and Ankara.
“If we are not able to organize a meeting in our countries, then how are we going to take steps on other issues,” Çavuşoğlu added.
Hunanyan also underlined Armenia’s “readiness to move forward,” pointing to the participation last month of Ararat Mirzoyan, the country’s foreign minister, at a diplomatic forum in the Turkish city of Antalya as a concrete example of the “bold steps” both sides need to take.
“The resumption of flights between Armenia and Turkey (in February) was also an important bilateral step,” he said.
Efforts to normalize the extremely fraught relations between Armenia and Turkey took on a new life late last year, when both countries’ governments appointed special envoys for talks. Though the two neighbors officially recognize one another, they have never established diplomatic relations.
Armenian special envoy Ruben Rubinyan and his Turkish counterpart, Serdar Kılıç, have since met twice, in Moscow in January and in Vienna in February. The meetings were the first direct talks between Armenian and Turkish officials in over a decade.
In a wide-ranging speech to parliament on Wednesday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan argued that Armenia and Turkey should take advantage of the current momentum to push for a normalization deal, warning that “there is a big chance that the process will become stagnant” if there are not “swift results.”
Normalizing relations was a key pledge in Pashinyan’s five-year government action plan, approved by lawmakers last August.